Wednesday 27 November 2013

Let's Talk...

... About Christmas. And excuse me whilst I channel my inner Scrooge. From now on I won’t be so much the “A Cuban in London” as “the Cuban version of Ebenezer in London”. I bet you anything that the first comment left in the box below tonight will be “Bah, humbug”. Well, bah-humbug back to you, my friend!

When does Christmas really start? Is it when mince pies go on sale (I saw some on a display window in Shropshire back in August when I was there. I kid you not!), or perhaps when my weekend papers begin to assault my senses with endless John Lewis, PC World/Currys and M&S A5 catalogues? How about when the lights of your town centre are switched on? Mine have been beaming out their Christmassy electric energy since mid-November.

Let’s talk about Christmas indeed. More specifically about our modern notion of the birth of one of the most important figures in the history of mankind: Santa Claus.

Despite my previous words, I do not despise Christmas. But, not having been brought up with the tradition (we used to celebrate Christmas’ Eve back home. However, even that was hush-hush as Fidel’s government clamped down on all things religious), I find myself at a loss over what is considered proper Crimbo etiquette. What I have noticed is that there is an unhealthy commodification around this yearly celebration.

That is why I think that Scrooge was on to something. You might have thought I was joking when I invoked his spirit at the beginning but, in reality, Charles Dickens gave us a visionary in Ebenezer. A prophet who saw the shape of future Christmas to come. Or at least the ghost of them.

Miser or visionary?
Scrooge has always been accused of being tight-fisted. Yet what he really represented was the resistance to the market forces that were already making themselves felt in Victorian Britain. He was thrift versus future profligacy. He got labelled (undeservedly in my opinion) a miser. How unfair, I say! All he was doing was alerting the world to the Wongas of the noughties. The payday loan companies whose annual interest rates can reach up to 5,000%. True, Scrooge lost his fiancée Belle. His critics blame his procrastination. He wanted to hit the jackpot before saying “I do”. But what man does not want to provide for his beloved? Especially in those pre-feminism years when women still did not have the vote and marriage was just another way to keep them down? I think Scrooge was way ahead of his time here and by hoarding saving his money, he taught future generations how to administer their cash better.

Ebenezer did not despise the poor. He loved them! But he knew what was coming to them. He could smell it (God, he had a huge nose. At least in the screen versions). Bad credit cards habits, debts, round-the-clock advertising, mental and spiritual poisoning of the young, you name it, our modern version of the yuletide season covers them all.

Let’s talk about Christmas. Especially, let’s talk about the real meaning of it now that secularism has given the Overweight Citizen from the North Pole the heave-ho-ho-ho. Is it family time with Morecambe and Wise on telly? Clad in our new PJs and gorging on chocolates? Frantically and aggressively tearing up the impressively wrapped presents from friends and relatives? Taking a selfie? Discreetly putting aside one of the aforementioned presents? Checking your status on Facebook, whilst your mum goes to the kitchen to check on the turkey? Discussing the meaning of life? Having yet another chocolate and promising yourself that “no, no, this will be the last one”? Taking another selfie?

Scrooge’s intention was to rein in this excess. Maybe he went about it the wrong way. But his message of simplicity ought to be heeded in our current race to exterminate ourselves through shopping. In the meantime, pass us some mince pies, will you?

© 2013

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 1st December at 10am (GMT)


  1. Think you nailed christmas right there, can't say I take selfies though lol. Never thought that much about Scrooge either

  2. Well written. And I'll bet there'll be nary a bah humbug in the comments. ;)

  3. I loathe the commercialisation of the season. And, working on a crisis line I hear from far too many people made stressed and just plain miserable by expectations they cannot achieve.
    Love and simplicity sound wonderful. I can do without the tinsel and the cash registers though. And the debt and the booze and the family disputes.
    Which probably means that I am wearing Humbug cologne...

  4. You know what Cuban? My first visit to Cuba was Christmas '93. From a horrible El Corte Inglés Christmas lighting (plus the streets, the tv ads, etc.) in Madrid, we went to Caracas, which then was even worst. But from Caracas we arrived in a "Special Period Havana", and that, FOR US, was Heaven. Not for Cubans, though... that was a nasty time there (as you know). BUT, from that time to present, things have changed a lot in Cuba (regarding Christmas) and now everybody wants to get what other countries have. What a world, what a world...

  5. I'll share a mince pie with you - but I struggle with the idea of measuring the 'success' of Christmas by how much people spend. Light candles if you must; play games with children - but in the aftermath it's the money spent that we hear about, not the small joys of sharing food.

  6. Excellent article, so well and truthfully written. I definitely have a bah humbug streak in me. As for selfies, isn't that word based on vanity? No, I have not nor will not use my phone for such a thing.

  7. The minute Halloween was over with, some stores began with their Christmas displays. Yikes. I agree people should reign in their excesses. There is WAY too much stress on commercialism (at least I don't think England has yet to develop the Black Friday phenomenon we have in the US)! The true meaning gets lost somewhere in the shuffle. Sad indeed!! And then immediately AFTER Christmas come the post-Christmas sales which keep the frenzy alive even longer. Sigh.

  8. bah humbug...ha...ok there you got it...i am pretty sick of the commercialization of christmas and the need to compete for the best gifts...we wont go to our in laws at christmas because my SIL is so over the top...we wont outspend her...that people have to work on thanksgiving to have the sales, sucks...

  9. Xmas, the time when more people commit suicide, get divorced and drown their sorrows in drink.

    I've 'cancelled' Xmas for some 30 years now. Never send stupid cards wishing everybody happiness and other silly phrases.

    All completely crap rubbishy twaddle.

    OK, I admit I've always sent a few quid to my grandkids to do whatever they want with it. But buying gifts that nobody needs or wants is pure tripe.

    Scrooge is my favourite Xmas film, with Alistair Sim of course. My only gripe is that I wish they hadnever 'colourised' it.

    Enjoy your humbugs.

  10. It is sometimes said people make the greatest fools of themselves when they are drunk. That might be so, but I have no doubt those who burst through the doorways of retail merchants and stampede down the aisles when the pre-Christmas sales begin are rapidly gaining ground on the drunks in the race to behave like and to look like absolute idiots.

    Black Friday activities in the U.S. now apparently are being supplanted by the majority of sales actually beginning on Thanksgiving Day, rather than on the day after.

    In a similar sense, I can recall when Americans were told that saving money, rather than spending it, was part of the process of being a responsible citizen. Now, led by the federal government, spend, spend, spend has become the mantra of this country.

    Whether one thinks of Christmas in a religious or a secular manner, my respect and admiration go to the people who observe it with tradition and respect and common sense.

    You have produced an interesting post, CiL, and written it in a brilliant style. Long live Scrooge!

  11. we sure lost the real meaning of christmas somewhere on the way between here and 2000 years ago... and that it is all about eating and buying - and more eating and more buying makes me sick..ugh

  12. It's Thanksgiving Day here in the US, and our family eats an early dinner instead of lunch. Just now there is a lull between the hectic preparations and all the guests arriving for the meal. I wanted to take some of that time to visit my blogging friends. I needed to say thank you. Thank you for the inspiration you provide here in your place and for the comments you leave behind when you visit mine. Happy Thanksgiving, friend.

  13. I think christmas once every second year would be enough. And 4 days only!

  14. I am lucky that I am in a situation where I am oddly not in so much contact with a lot of popular culture, or at least, I seem to be able to limit the dosage. It is all pretty amazing to me. Thanks much. Take care, k.

  15. Being a non-Christian, I can only observe...and some of what I observe drives me crazy:
    Why DO they begin selling mince pies way back in August?
    Turn on Christmas lights in the shops from early November?
    Etc. etc. etc.
    Ebenezer certainly did have a point...too much fuss too early.
    As I see it, it dilutes the atmosphere of Christmas and detracts from it's true meaning.
    Really it is about Love, is it not?
    Not about how much you can spend, how much you want to receive, or how much you can manage to eat.
    I think, generally speaking, the plot has been well and truly lost!

    I won't say "no" to that mince pie though *smiles*

  16. I love Christmas but for me christmas begin in Advent, inthis weekend Ilove celebrate Christmas because still I hope He born again in our hearts and think Christmas has something magical anyway Christmas is like we want to live:)

  17. I am a Christmas fan but deplore the way the commercial tumbril starts rolling 4 months early.

  18. Well, mince pies are few and far between over here, but the bastardization of the holiday is out of control. Nice writing, thanks for the chuckle and cultural critique.

  19. Many thanks for your kind comments. To me Christmas is about spending time with my family and relaxing. Having arrived in London in November '97, the whole Christmas frenzy was a shock. In the intervening sixteen years it's got worse, not better. Now, gadgets make up even the stocking fillers.

    Have a nice rest of the weekend.

    Greetings from London.

  20. Tienes razón, Navidad es tiempo para pasar con la familia y agradecer estar con ellos, feliz Diciembte.

  21. What a unique vision but then, your essays always come from a deeper insight than most of us have. No bah humbug here either

  22. My problem can't enjoy one holiday before they start the next! Thank you for you thoughtful comments on my blog.

  23. Yes, the crass commercialism of Christmas has gotten out of hand, but it's up to each of us to distinguish all of that from our personal feelings about the season. I don't understand all the stress and hustle-bustle associated with Christmas. It's about peace, and hope, and love. It's about family and friends. Not stuff. Not about spending a lot of money.

    Um, I don't care for mince pie... how about some brownies?

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